Six officers stabbed in six weeks - 'staff now fear being murdered'
The safety of prison staff is not being taken seriously enough despite six officers being stabbed while on duty in a six week period, according to the Prisoner officers' Association (POA).
Speaking at their annual conference, POA president Stephen Delaney said attacks on staff in jails continues unabated.
He warned that if the Prison Service doesn't face the stark reality of staff safety then the spectre of the murder of a prison officer could become a reality.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said officers escorting violent inmates are to get bullet-proof and anti-stab vests in the wake of the stabbing of two officers while transporting violent robber Derek Brockwell in February.
She also said other recommendations made following the savage attack will be implemented, including the introduction of batons and pepper spray and the transportation of high risk prisoners in prison uniforms.
Brockwell stabbed the two officers in Tallaght Hospital on February 17 after retrieving a knife left for him in the toilets.
He then escaped on the back of a waiting motorcyle.
The Minister made her comments as Mr Delaney outlined that there had been six stabbings of prison officers in just six weeks.
Ms Fitzgerald said she takes the safety and welfare of all prison staff very seriously.
Scene where Derek Brockwell was eventually captured
"Every violent assault is viewed and treated as a serious incident," she said, adding that in 2014 there were 151 recorded assaults by prisoners on staff.
"The Irish Prison Service has identified a requirement for approximately 160 vests across all prisons and the vast majority of these have been recently deployed," the minister added.
"In addition, appropriate training and equipment is to be provided on de-escalation measures. You can be assured that all these recommendations will be implemented in full," she said.
But Mr Delaney said the measures being introduced on anti-stab vests did not go far enough.
"Just 160 vests for 3,500 staff, 11 per institution. One size does not fit all minister. It is not enough," he said.
"It is the gang leaders that should be properly isolated for the safety of all officers and prisoners alike.
"We are told that any attempts to isolate these individuals will be resisted in the courts," he added.
"We are saying loud and clear to you if you take these individuals on and make real attempts to safeguard our members you will have our absolute support," Mr Delaney said addressing Minister Fitzgerald.
The conference, being held in Co Clare, was also told that a promise to eradicate drugs from prisons through enhanced screening programmes, drug-free areas and confidential help lines had fallen flat.
Mr Delaney also warned of strike action if his members' concerns about pay are not addressed.
"When every other corner of the public service is getting ready to breathe a much-deserved sigh of relief, in the dim corner of justice that is prisons, our place of work, we have to deal with this injustice," he told delegates.
"We have no wish to resort to industrial action, but we may have no choice," he added.